Review of North Yorkshire leisure services in drive to promote health

Richmond Swimming Pool.

Opportunities for exercise across England’s largest county are to be reviewed as part of a drive to promote the health and wellbeing of residents.

North Yorkshire County Council’s planning for growth executive member Councillor Simon Myers said the in-depth study would feature an examination of what the authority’s role should be in promoting public health as it faces financial pressures over spiralling social care costs.

A meeting of the authority focused on the transition to a new unitary council in April heard while existing leisure centres and charges would be looked, a study of the county’s community and grassroots facilities was also underway, to examine alternative ways of enabling rural residents to be physically active.

The meeting was told after the closure of the seven district and borough councils, the unitary authority would take on responsibility for 28 leisure centre premises across North Yorkshire, including 16 swimming pools.

The meeting heard there are glaring differences in access to leisure facilities across the county, with just one council-backed swimming pool in Richmondshire, which is in Richmond, so there was very little way people living in Hawes could use it, given that it would be a 54-mile round trip.

Councillors heard while leisure services in each of the districts were in “very different states”, Coun Myers said some councils, such as Hambleton, had “state of the art” leisure centres.

He added he did not believe it was right for councils to compete with private leisure facilities, saying it was not the best use of public money.

However, the unitary authority would be unable to harmonise leisure services across the county until 2027 due to continuing contracts.

Coun Myers said he wanted to harness the county’s leisure services to tackle issues such as childhood obesity and mental health.

He said: “I think it’s very important when we consider that as a council we spend 53 per cent of our budget on social care one way or another, to look at investing in our residents, customers, so they don’t require social care so soon, they are kept fit and healthy, independent for longer.

The committee’s chairman, Councillor Malcom Taylor, added: “Prevention is better cure and if we can reduce our expenditure in adult social care I think that would be a massive benefit.”

The authority’s scrutiny of health committee chairman, Councillor Andrew Lee,  said it was clear providing access to leisure facilities across the whole county was going to be very difficult.

He said: “I support the delivery and provision of leisure but these facilities have got to, in my opinion, pay for themselves. I don’t want to see public money chucked at them if they’re not being used by a reasonable amount of the population.

“At the end of the day I always believe we have a responsibility to the taxpayers, value for money. Let’s look at things in a business-like way and not just say we must have these facilities, Harrogate’s got x so somewhere else must have the equivalent. ”

Coun Myers replied: “One man’s subsidy is another man’s investment. I think investing in the health of our residents is a really important thing to do. You either pick up the tab in social care and NHS spending or you invest it to keep people fitter and I think we have a role in that. I’m not in favour of simply chucking money at things.”

“It’s 175 years since the first public health board was set up. One of the very beginnings of local government, people’s involvement in public health. I think we should celebrate that and have a role to promote that, we owe that to our residents.”